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StopSOP slate takes majority of lawyer seats in LSO bencher election

Wednesday, May 01, 2019 @ 10:55 AM | By Amanda Jerome

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 01, 2019 @ 2:49 PM

The Law Society of Ontario’s (LSO) bencher election results have been released and show that 22 of the 23 StopSOP slate of candidates have been elected, giving them the majority of the lawyer seats represented at Convocation.

The StopSOP candidates campaigned to “eliminate the compelled” Statement of Principles.

Voting closed at 5 p.m. on April 30 with results released May 1. The elected benchers will sit for the 2019–2023 term. There are 40 seats for lawyers and five for paralegals.

Jared Brown

Elected bencher D. Jared Brown

The lawyer benchers for Toronto are: Murray Klippenstein, Robert P. Adourian, Chi-Kun Shi, Geoff Pollock, Sam Goldstein, Lubomir Poliacik, D. Jared Brown, John Fagan, Nicholas dePencier Wright, Philip Horgan, Joseph Groia, Orlando Da Silva, Julia Shin Doi, Isfahan Merali, Gina Papageorgiou, Sidney Troister, Julian Falconer, Atrisha Lewis, Megan Shortreed and Malcolm Mercer.

The lawyer benchers outside Toronto are: Joseph Chiummiento, Andrew Spurgeon, Gary Graham, Cheryl R. Lean, Jack Braithwaite, Etienne Esquega, Gerard Paul Charette, Ryan Alford, Cecil Lyon, C. Scott Marshall, Jorge Pineda, Alexander David Wilkes, Brian Prill, Jean-Jacques Desgranges, Trevor Robert Parry, Teresa Donnelly, Jacqueline Horvat, Claire Wilkinson, Paul Cooper and Dianne Corbiere.

The paralegal benchers are: Robert Burd, Marian Lippa, Cathy Corsetti, Shelina Lalji and Michelle Lomazzo.

Isfahan Merali image

Re-elected bencher Isfahan Merali

Merali, re-elected for Toronto, told The Lawyer’s Daily she gives the “warmest wishes” to everyone who ran in the election.

“There were an exceptional number of candidates many of whom had interesting, diverse perspectives, and all of whom, I know, would have contributed to Convocation. I am, of course, very sad that my running mate Jayashree [Goswami] has not been elected,” she said, adding that she’s proud of their joint campaign.  

“I want to also say how saddened I am not to see a number of my bencher colleagues [be re-elected] who have been dedicated, hardworking, collaborative benchers and who have really given so much of their time to the work of Convocation over many years,” she explained, noting that “the work ahead will have to continue in a collaborative way.”

“Much of the work and the progress we’ve made on issues such as equity and diversity, mental health, Indigenous issues (and) tribunal reform, were done with extensive consultation and research with the public and the profession, and were done with the public interest in mind,” Merali noted, adding she “very much hopes” that this new group of benchers, whom she congratulates, “find common ground, work collaboratively and continue to do the work in the public interest.”

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Re-elected bencher Gina Papageorgiou

Papageorgiou, who was also re-elected in Toronto, said via e-mail that she is “very grateful” to the people who supported her.

“However, I am disappointed that there are so few women, racialized, Indigenous and other equity-seeking groups elected. I am also very disappointed that some of the exceptional incumbents who were strong supporters of diversity, and who have contributed so much, have not been re-elected.  A significant number of the new benchers ran on the platform ‘StopSOP’ which is unfortunately about rolling back equity measures undertaken by the LSO to deal with serious problems of racism and sexism within the profession. I remain committed to working with all of the benchers to advance equity issues in a thoughtful and progressive manner,” she added.

Lewis, elected for Toronto, said via e-mail that she ran on a platform of “inclusion, access and governance,” which included emphasizing the perspectives of recent calls at Convocation.

“I am honoured to have been elected and grateful to support the profession. There was not a bencher in their first 10 years of call; I’m happy to say we changed that together,” she added.

Atrisha Lewis image

Elected bencher Atrisha Lewis

Benchers elected in this election will take office at the May 23 Convocation.

The StopSOP slate released a press release that stated, “Our platform promised to end the law society’s Statement of Principles policy, adopted in December 2016, which requires all licensees ‘to adopt and to abide by a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.’ The requirement compels speech, infringes freedom of thought and conscience, and imposes a political litmus test for the practice of law in Ontario. Our newly elected benchers will get to work to repeal the SOP.”

“We congratulate all candidates for their campaigns and look forward to working with other elected benchers to rein in the law society’s ever-expanding mission, bureaucracy and ballooning budgetary expenditures,” the statement concluded.

Brown, a member of the StopSOP slate elected for Toronto, said the “profession has clearly voted in favour of freedom of expression, thought and conscience.”

“We believe the result is consistent with the public interest that lawyers remain independent in a free society. There will be much work ahead but repealing the compelled speech Statement of Principles is core to our mandate,” he said via e-mail.

Da Silva, also elected for Toronto, is “honoured and humbled” to be elected, but also “disappointed” that many “good, progressive candidates were defeated.”

“Despite the success of the StopSOP slate, it is difficult to know whether they agree, amongst themselves, on any other issue facing the profession. Needless to say, whatever the composition of Convocation, I will not be dissuaded from strongly advocating for EDI [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion], the SOP, and mental health and wellness in the profession and the justice system. I remain hopeful, that despite the apparent division in Convocation resulting from the election, we will still find common ground and work well toward sensible legal regulation in the public interest,” he explained via e-mail.

The LSO released a statement noting that “throughout the election process, the law society encouraged eligible voters to vote, via e-blasts, social media engagement and advertising. Thirty per cent of lawyers and 17 per cent of paralegals cast their ballots.”

“While the number of voters is down from the previous election, we thank those who took the time to vote. We will be reviewing our process as part of our best practices and determine any changes that might be appropriate for the next election,” the statement concluded.

Ian Wilkinson, the only paralegal on the StopSOP slate, did not win a seat in the election.

“The newly elected bench will be confirmed at the meeting of Convocation on May 23. Following confirmation, the new bench will gather to set priorities and guide decision making over the next four years,” said treasurer Malcolm Mercer, re-elected for Toronto.

Benchers who ran for re-election, but were not successful include: John Callaghan, Rebecca Durcan, Rocco Galati, Howard Goldblatt, Jeffrey Lem, William McDowell, Barbara Murchie, Jonathan Rosenthal, Tanya Walker, Peter Wardle, Heather Zordel, Peter Beach, Fred Bickford, Janis Criger, Michael Lerner, M. Virginia MacLean, Raj Sharda, Jerry Udell and Anne Vespry.